Written by Robin Lynam

A Pacific Princess Returns

It’s always a pleasure to welcome a real jazz talent back in town, and Tuesday sees the return of Bonnie J Jensen... Her repertoire last time consisted of a mixture of standards, pop and rock tunes given a jazzier twist, and a few of her own originals. Some had been recorded on her first two albums, Lucky So & So and Blue Joy.

These have now been joined on the CD racks by a third album on the LaBrava label, The Sapphire Tree, some of whose arrangements were taking shape during her last Hong Kong residency.

Pianist Alister Spence, who also handles Fender Rhodes and organ, contributes a fine solo to a version of U2’s I still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

But Jensen takes over the keyboard for one of the better jazz-inflected cover versions of Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing I’ve heard in recent years (there have perhaps been too many, but she brings something fresh to it), for two of her originals and for the late Irish songwriter Noel Brazil’s Columbus. The best-known version of the tune was previously Mary Black’s.

As always with Jensen, it’s an interesting set of interpretations that pays due respect to heritage in the choice of standards and compositions by jazz musicians, but breaks them up with contemporary composition. Jensen once cited Bonnie Raitt as an influence, and like Raitt she generally chooses, with rare intelligence, songs that suit her voice. Both apply the same high standards to their own compositions.

Her phrasing on The Sapphire Tree puts me in mind of Joni Mitchell rather than Diana Krall, with whom she tends to be compared, and she digs down deep into the blues for Aeroblue.

Her record company’s press release says the other original, Neon Soliloquy, is reminiscent of Miles Davis’ soundtrack for Louis Malle’s film Ascenseur pour L’Echaffaud. It isn’t particularly, although it does feature a muted trumpet played by Miroslav Bukovsky, which was one of Davis’ signature sounds. It also reminds me more of Mitchell during her jazz period, performing songs such as Furry Sings the Blues.

The straight-ahead jazz tunes are well chosen. Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia, when Jon Hendricks’ lyrics, is a vocal tour de force and an instrumental one for the band. Night and Day and Angel Eyes are tastefully interpreted and she revisits her bluesy side with Ain’t No Use, which features some effective guitar from Jeremy Sawkins.

The album concludes with Lead The Way, written by Brian Blade, who has also supplied sympathetic percussion for songwriters such as Mitchell and Bob Dylan.

Jensen is backed by an all-star lineup of Australian jazz musicians: Miroslav Bukovsky, who also wrote the horn arrangements, Alister Spence, Jeremy Sawkins, Craig Walters on Saxophone, Jonathan Zwartz on bass and Fabian Hevia on drums and percussion.